Violence and personality

The most recent edition of InPsych (Newsletter of the Australian Psychological Society) has a theme of treating the violent client. It stresses again the biggest problem in such treatment programs is engaging the client. Many do not see anything wrong with the use of violence as a means to solve a problem and to make matters worse many of the participants in such programs are court ordered. Their motivation for being there is not to reduce their use of violence but to stay out of prison.

Many governments have spent large sums of money on education and programs around domestic violence and violence in general society. Overall the success of these has been limited. Why would this be so?  Maybe part of the answer is how the personality forms and the basic characteristics of human nature.

Hitting or physically assaulting another person unfortunately is not foreign to the human psyche. One simply has to watch children interacting in a group. It is often not long before some child will hit, push, bite, pinch or shove another child when they get angry or frustrated. This is not uncommon behaviour for children to display.  What this means is children do not have to learn to hit, instead they have to learn not to hit. It is natural for a child to use some kind of physical violence when it is frustrated or angry. In this sense it could be said that it is an expression of Free Child ego state. It is natural to humans when they are in childhood.

However in normal human development people subsequently develop an Adult and Parent ego state as the diagram shows.

Ego state development Jpeg

This results in most adults developing a state of mind where physically hitting another person is not seen as a viable way to solve a problem. With the subsequent development of the Adult and the Parent they develop a personality structure where physical violence is not seen as OK, right or even an effective means of communicating.  It creates more problems than it solves. Fortunately most people develop in this way when they reach adulthood.

However, as we know there are a group who do not develop this way and they do see the use of physical violence as an effective way of communicating. For some reason their Adult and Parent ego state development does not result in a change in this child like way of viewing the world. Also in human development one never looses their Child ego state. When we develop the Adult and Parent ego states these do not replace the Child but are simply add ons in our personality. The Child stays as part of us though our entire lives and plays a big part of our decision making.

This means if a person does not develop an Adult and Parent such that violence is viewed as not an option then when they express such physical violence it is going to feel natural. It is an expression of their Free Child ego state an hence will be perceived and felt as ego syntonic rather than ego dystonic. The individual will perceive what they are doing as a natural thing to do, that is consistent with the rest of their personality – ego syntonic.

This explanation could go some of the way to answering why those who use physical violence in relationships are so hard to engage in treatment programmes. They perceive, feel and experience the use of such violence as a natural, Free Child, ego syntonic thing to do. It is experienced as a natural part of their personality and who they are which of course the Child ego state is. If it is felt like this then obviously it is not something that needs to be changed or altered.

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